Days of B.C. forest land use policy favouring the interests of the forest industry are long gone

By Jim Stirling

Recent announcements have reinforced the status of First Nations as the alpha driver of forest land use policies in British Columbia.

The trend has been evolving for years. It was formalized in 2019 when the provincial NDP government aligned B.C.’s forest land policies to the guiding principles and perspectives of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Successful milestone court decisions in B.C. and Canada in recent years have marked the aboriginal communities’ long struggles for recognition and acceptance as equal partners.

A concern for today’s forest industry is the blinkered approach the government is taking toward implementing new forest land policies in B.C.

These concerns were undercurrents during the 2022 B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) annual convention held in Vancouver at the end of April. Both B.C. Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy addressed the approximately 750 delegates attending the convention.

For years, individual forest companies have read the signs and developed working relationships with First Nation groups across the province. In most cases, these alliances have benefited both parties. Forest companies get an additional timber source, much-needed in the post-mountain pine beetle era. First Nations gain a meaningful say in what happens on their traditional territories, work experience for their members and funds for band improvement projects.

The value and scope of these forest industry/First Nation partnerships may well grow in importance.

Prior to the COFI convention, the government announced a boost in resource revenue sharing for First Nations. The province will pay $131 million in 2022, a $72 million increase from the previous year. Much of the funding comes from stumpage payments to government and B.C. Timber Sales. The new fiscal arrangement with First Nations is a further expression of the UNDRIP commitment, and will increase in the future.

Looking back, a recurring pattern emerges in B.C. politics: a dominant group or industry has more influence with government more of the time. For years, the forest industry played that role. As the prime generator of provincial wealth and reputation, the forest industry held sway in Victoria. Most publicly-owned forest land use decisions of the day favoured the interests of the powerful lumber industry lobby.

Those days have gone.

Since then, the public has demanded and received more from the provincial forests than just a storehouse for future 2 x 4s. Environmental awareness in several forms became imprinted on the forest landscape. New parks, reserves and protected areas resulted.

The implications of global warming, the COVID pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine overshadow many domestic issues. Uncertainties have replaced the familiar and predictable. Meanwhile, First Nations are wisely taking their opportunities to further their interests within the B.C. forest industry.

B.C. is one of a growing number of jurisdictions around the world with a keen interest in wildfire control technologies. The warming climate is fueling more unpredictable and violent weather patterns, which are spawning mega forest fires. A team at the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver is examining cultural burning techniques to see what lessons they might provide. The UBC work indicates cultural burning is a forest fire prevention strategy rather than a control measure. Fire in the cultural context is viewed on a much broader scale as a tool for ecosystem management. The process includes a host of values ranging from enhancing species diversity to improving water quality.

But it is the future of log harvesting in ‘old growth’ forests that is the touchstone issue in B.C. early in 2022—and the role of First Nations is at its heart.

Early in May, activists were frustrating commuters by blocking bridges and gluing themselves to the surface of arterial roads in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. The demonstrators demand a permanent halt to all logging in old growth forests. The forest industry’s response is ‘hold on a minute, let’s talk about this.’

But the provincial government has responded in effect that it will be the First Nations which will decide if and where logging is permitted and under what levels of restriction. 

The old growth issue burst into public prominence in November 2021. A government-appointed panel identified 2.6 million hectares of provincial forest lands as ‘old growth’. It is off limits to log harvesting consideration, to give First Nation groups time to decide if they support a permanent logging ban. More than one million hectares of land had been deferred by April 2022. The deferrals are scheduled to last two years to allow further consultation with First Nations.

The forest industry recognizes the significance of many ‘old growth’ stands across the province. But all old forests are not equal. Some older forest systems can be rejuvenated with the application of forest management techniques.

Under the present government formula, consultation with other groups affected by the old growth harvesting decision—including the forest industry—will only come after the fact. The key decisions will have already been made by the government and First Nations. Surely the best way to avoid past errors is not to repeat them.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

May/June 2022

On the Cover:
With the help of technical experts from Italy, Germany, Montana and the province of Saskatchewan, the First Nation Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan has now launched a state-of-the-art $90-million bioenergy facility. The new power facility is producing enough energy to process the wood waste from their sawmill, power the bioenergy plant’s in-house facility (heat, lights and run the wood hog), provide power to 5,000 nearby city homes—and has enough energy left over to sell 6.6 megawatts to provincial utility, SaskPower Corporation (Cover photo courtesy of Meadow Lake Tribal Council).

Spotlight: Moving on to the next challenge…
Former BID Group CEO Brian Fehr is now on a mission to help struggling businesses and communities—and is also keeping his hand in the forest industry.

Grinding it out in Saskatchewan
The First Nation Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, has launched a $90-million bioenergy facility—and helping it reach its feedstock goals is a custom built wood hog grinder from Rawlings Manufacturing.

ELTEC expands manufacturing operations, logging equipment production
Logging equipment company Eltec has recently embarked on a significant expansion of its production facilities in Quebec, positioning the company to supply not only the present needs of loggers, but their future needs, as well, with cutting edge equipment.

Most Wanted finds its services even more wanted
Most Wanted Contracting is finding demand for its forestry services increasing among land owners in the B.C. Interior concerned about wild fire prevention.

Resilient sawmillers
Family-owned Ayat Timbers International truly came back from adversity after the New Brunswick-based mill operation was struck by a fire—but they were quick to rebuild.

Tech Update: 
We take a look at what’s new in log trailers, that essential link in the wood transportation chain.

The EDGE
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
The days of B.C. forest land use policy favouring the interests of the forest industry are long gone, says Jim Stirling.

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